Educator expense deduction doesn't cover amount most have to spend
- Congressional Republicans preserved a $250 educator expense tax deduction after removing it from an earlier version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, NPR reports.
- In the 2016 tax year, the Treasury Department estimates the educator expense deduction cost the federal government roughly $210 million in tax revenue.
- A Scholastic survey found educators normally spend far more than the $250 allowed: Principals average around $683 of their own money, while teachers average $530 — though those in high-poverty schools spend as much as 40% more, and the subject being taught can also raise the amount to $1,000 or more.
As the Backpack Index — the measure of the amount parents can expect to pay for supplies and fees for “free” public education — increases, many families struggle to pay for food, clothing and needed school supplies. Since most teachers are, by nature, compassionate and empathetic, they often end up meeting some of these needs on their own. Couple that with the school supplies teachers themselves need to personalize their teaching style in the most effective way possible and the costs begin to mount.
The tax break was initially implemented by Republicans 15 years ago, and the Senate this year proposed an increase to $500. However, with the House wanting to ditch the deduction in the name of tax code simplification, a compromise agreement kept the current deduction in place. The decision is good news for many teachers, as the IRS reports that about 3.7 million tax returns included the deduction for 2015.
However, most teachers — especially first-year teachers and those in high poverty schools — spend far more than the $250 tax deduction covers. Some school district organizations are addressing this issue through cooperative agreements that allow them to purchase schools supplies in bulk at reduced cost, thus lessening the burden on families and teachers. Some states, like Indiana, also allow a state tax deduction for teachers to help offset the costs. Another option school districts may want to consider is allowing each teacher a discretionary amount to spend on supplies. With the teacher recruitment issues many states are facing, such measures may make the difference.